Fermat's Little Theorem

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Fermat's Little Theorem is highly useful in number theory for simplifying computations in modular arithmetic (which students should study more at the introductory level if they have a hard time following the rest of this article).


If ${a}$ is an integer, ${p}$ is a prime number and ${a}$ is not divisible by ${p}$, then $a^{p-1}\equiv 1 \pmod {p}$.

Note: This theorem is a special case of Euler's Totient Theorem.


A frequently used corollary of Fermat's Little Theorem is $a^p \equiv a \pmod {p}$. As you can see, it is derived by multipling both sides of the theorem by a. The restated form is nice because we no longer need to restrict ourselves to integers ${a}$ not divisible by ${p}$.

Sample Problem

One of Euler's conjectures was disproved in the 1960s by three American mathematicians when they showed there was a positive integer such that $133^5+110^5+84^5+27^5=n^5$. Find the value of ${n}$. (AIME 1989/9)

By Fermat's Little Theorem, we know ${n^{5}}$ is congruent to $n$ modulo 5. Hence,

$3 + 0 + 4 + 7 \equiv n\pmod{5}$
$4 \equiv n\pmod{5}$

Continuing, we examine the equation modulo 3,

$-1 + 1 + 0 + 0 \equiv n\pmod{3}$
$0 \equiv n\pmod{3}$

Thus, $n$ is divisible by three and leaves a remainder of four when divided by 5. It's obvious that $n>133$, so the only possibilities are $n = 144$ or $n = 174$. It quickly becomes apparent that 174 is much too large, so $n$ must be 144.


This theorem is credited to Pierre de Fermat.

See also

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